Day 117 -- Halloween in Gwangju and Holiday Hopes

I'd never made the journey southwest of Nonsan until Saturday. I always go north and/or east--Seoul and Daejeon, most commonly. So Saturday was a bit of an adventure. Getting to Gwangju--about an equal distance from Nonsan as Seoul, but in the opposite direction--was a total pain. In total, ignoring the gory details, it took me four hours and a bus transfer. However, I made it, grabbed the last materials for my costume, and met up with a bunch of ETAs spending Halloween in the city.
I'll admit, I had high expectations, thinking that Halloween with a group of foreigners in a big city would be ROUGHLY similar to Halloween in America, but alas, there are some things that--no matter how hard you try to--just won't translate into Korean life. It was still a good time though, and being able to see almost ALL the ETAs (seriously, we have homing instincts, I think, considering how many separate groups of us came into this city with little to no intercommunication) was really, really great.

Walking around in costumes was hilarious. Where ever we went, Koreans would stare silently until we passed, then rather loud whispering of "asldkfjs Halloween asdkjflsa" in our wake. Especially when Cornelius, the other Penn State ETA, went walking around in a combo costume--his original Korean grandma outfit with a Batman cape + face mask. That one got a lot of stares, as I'm sure did Adam's amazing Ursula costume, complete with purple body paint.

Foreign girls' translation of Big Bang's outfits in "Gara Gara Go!!" (which is actually a Japanese song)

I wish I had been able to do more Halloween things with my host family, but it's so much more difficult to translate holidays that I thought it would. I started Halloween a few weeks early, but failed to really plan things, so this time I'm starting NOW with Thanksgiving, hoping it turns out more like what I'm imagining it will: a whole throng of host family and friends gathering for a giant spread of hand-made American foods. Wish me luck!


Day 116 -- Physical Fitness Testing = 3 Day Weekend

**backdated, 11/2**

Thursday night, I got a call from my co-co-teacher that the next day would be physical fitness testing for the students. Running, sit ups, sit-and-reach flexibility... same as America's test. But most importantly, this meant that I didn't have to come to school. YES.

Instead, I slept in... well, as much as I could, since my ride called me at 7:50am, asking why I wasn't coming to school. I ended up going to Daejeon to see Sarah, study in coffee shops, and look for components for my KPop Boy Band group costume.

Sarah and I have decided to take the TOPIK (Test of Proficiency In Korean) in the spring as an incentive to study Korean during our spare time. You would think living in the country and thus being required to use Korean daily would be incentive enough but, no, no, you are wrong.


Day 114 -- Chungnam Province ETA Conference

All the ETAs (by all, note that this means 8 people) and their co-teachers were invited to Cheonan for a province ETA conference with the district's education director. This meant I got to leave school early to go on an hour-long drive with my co-co-teacher, hurray! The conference itself was really lame--just some random people lecturing on the pecking order of the education office and giving us some ridiculously common sense "tips" on teaching. The Gyeongju conference was much, MUCH more informative and inspiring, but at least I got to have a Western-style buffet for free in Cheonan, and see my friends during the work week. Win?


Day 111 -- Trapped in Seoul

**backdated, 11/2**

Saturday, I decided to go to Seoul for some shopping and Mexican food. I was relaxing at a Starbucks in Itaewon before looking for shoes when Hallie called me, asking if she could join me. I had two hours to kill while she bus'sed it up to Seoul, so I wandered from coffee shop to coffee shop, studying my Korean vocabulary to pass the time. Once she arrived, we went shopping--her for Christmas presents to bring back to the States, and me for cold-weather teaching tops and shoes. We got so wrapped up in what we were doing that we ended up running late to the Mexican restaurant.

After getting lost trying to find the place and having to backtrack for several reasons, we finally made it to On The Border... as the kitchen was closing. ANNOYING.
We get on the subway to head to the bus station and left the subway to transfer lines... as the subway was shutting down, leaving us stranded a good distance from the station. FRUSTRATING.
After a long (and expensive) taxi ride, we finally made it to the bus station... as the last bus was leaving. ASLDKFJASLDFKJSDF.

We really didn't have any other choice but to stay in Seoul for the night, but where? Actual hotels are too expensive for poor English teachers and love motels are really hit-and-miss--sometimes you get a surprisingly nice one, and sometimes you get a painfully sketchy one. That only left one option.

Jimjilbang--public bath.

We asked some random taxi drivres if there were any in the area and luckily for our heavy-shopping-bag-laden arms, there was one just 50m from the station. I will admit that, at this point, I was a VERY crabby, unhappy camper, but after a shower and a few rounds of hot-room/cold-room sauna, I felt much better.

Even though I didn't get much sleep on the hard, stone floor of the jimjilbang, when we woke up the next morning we were able to get bagels for breakfast and Mexican for lunch, so in the end everything worked out okay. Hurray!


Day 109 -- School Festival Day 2

On Friday before the festival started again, I had a conversation with the principal that went something like this.

Principal: "Today askdfjaskd run?"
Lindsay: "Yes, today I will participate and run at the festival with the students!"
Principal: "Today alskfjasdlkj run."
Lindsay: "Um... yes?"
Principal: "Alkajgdslkfjsd soccer?"
Lindsay: "Oh, um, no, I can't play soccer well."
Principal: "Aasldkfjsadlk soccer."
Lindsay: "... yes?"

There, uh, there's a lot of Korean I don't understand, but I usually just say yes so that they stop repeating themselves needlessly. Really, no matter how many times you say that word I don't know, I still won't understand it.

Anyway, apparently this exchange was the principal setting me up to travel to Daejeon with two busloads of students. We were the away team cheering section as our school's girls' soccer team played in a championship tournament.

Our kids all sit patiently under the school's banner. Note the drums and balloon beaters. And bromance. Especially note the bromance.

In America, typical sports event snacks include hot dogs, popcorn, and cotton candy. In Korea, acceptable snacks for sports events include periwinkles--the snails you find in tidepool rocks--and bug pupae. This charming young class captain thought my reaction to boon-dae-ggi (bug pupae) was hilarious, and chewed me up some see-food pupae. Thanks.

These kids asked for a picture with me. About 75% of Koreans are total photo-hos. Note: that is not my hand around his waist, there's a third student kind of hiding behind us all.

Back at the school festival after the game, the teams were playing games to win points for their class. Here's the 2nd year internet commerce (?) students trying to get the most turns of the rope.

Overall, the festival was a whole lot of fun and I'm so happy I got the opportunity to get closer to my students. Being able to see them outside the classroom has really strengthened the bond I wanted to have with them. It's too hard to reach that closeness when you're restricted to a classroom, try as I might to make my lessons interactive and interesting, so the time I was able to spend just hanging out with them meant a lot to me. I'm so pumped for the spring semester festival!


Day 108 -- Halloween Lesson, School Festival Day 1, and Student Pictures

Halloween Lesson, Part I

Girl Student: "Ahhhh! 거미!" (spider)
Me: "Haha, yes, today we will study Halloween! I drew a spi--OH GOD, REAL SPIDER"
BFKASB*: "SPIDERMAN!!" (swats at spider) "You, me, hand phone same-same. So we love."

Later, a student cuddled my blow-up jack-o-lantern while we watched Nightmare Before Christmas. I teased him that it was his new girlfriend, so when it came time to end class, he kissed it goodbye and said he would miss it. We perhaps missed the point of Halloween, but it's hilarious so whatever.

Chapter Two ~ TOEFL class

TOEFL students caught on film in their natural habitat while constructing their zombie attack plans. Yes, creating zombie attack plans was a lesson.

Chapter Three ~ School Festival, Day 1

The school festival started today, where the students get a rare chance to relax and be kids. There's lots of mini-games between the classes for the kids to compete in, but it's mostly just down time to chat with friends and have a good time.

Tomorrow is the second and last day, including athletic competitions and a talent show. More pictures!!

Don't complain, you know you wanted pictures.

I went wild documenting all the instances of bromance, but this was perhaps one of my favorites. Mass bromancing!

And this is my Taeyang look-alike. He appears as though he would be a terrible troublemaker, but he's actually one of my sweetest students. CLEARLY, since he's playing with a baby bunny.

Chicken-fighting. You hop around on one leg and try to knock the others over.


Day 103 -- Sae Yeob's Big News

Last week, Sae Yeob received his first college acceptance letter!! He was accepted to Pittsburg State University in Kansas.

Yeah, me either.

But his TOEFL results came in this week and he got a high enough score to start classes in January. Two of our school's other TOEFL students received acceptance letters as well, so three kids are going to America for college. Hurray!

The picture above is a banner the school made and hung outside announcing that one of their students was accepted to an American school, Pittsburg State University. I thought it was funny they made a banner for this, but Sae Yeob explained that it's so that middle school students will see it and want to go to high school there.


Day 100 -- Hurray!

Today marks my 100th day in Korea. I can't believe my grant is 25% completed--there's still so much more I need to see and do before my time runs out. Looking back, I feel like I've done a lot in the last few months, so I hope I'll keep up the momentum and continue to find something to be awed by every day. Even on the days when it seems like all of Korea is out to get me.

In the last 100 days, I:

--Met amazing friends with KEY Club in Chuncheon
--Completed a 6 week, 4-hour-a-day intensive Korean class
--Settled into a teacher-role at the school
--Grown close with a host family that calls me their daughter and sister
--Started behaving less like a "strange foreigner" and more like a "community member"

In the next 100 days, I want to:

--Study Korean more diligently and meet a language partner from Konyang University
--Forge closer bonds with my students by memorizing all their names
--Organize the TOEFL class so the kids learn more
--Continue making gains (and losses) in the gym
--Start volunteering at the orphanages

Speaking of seeing and doing things, this past weekend was a whirlwind of friendly faces and historical places. It was fantastic to see all my ETA friends again and I managed to knock off 4 of the things on my To Do List that I created before leaving for Korea. Feels good, man.

I'll make a whole post about it very soon, but for now I'm exhausted and just wanted to make a momento that it's the 100th day!


Day 98 -- Gyeongju Fall Conference


I haven't been posting many pictures lately, so buckle up because this is gonna be almost all pictures. My apologies to those with slow computers.

So the fall F*bright conference was held in Gyeongju, which was once the capitol during the Silla dynasty. It's the location of many historical sites in Korea, but much of the ancient city was destroyed by Japanese colonists. Above is a reconstruction of what the city once looked like, but now almost everything has been destroyed.

I left early on Friday morning from Nonsan. My itinerary was a bit ridiculous--I had to catch a 9:30am train from Daejeon, which meant getting a 8:15am bus from Nonsan. This is the bridge I have to cross every morning on my way to school, and it's a really good representation of Nonsan--rice paddies and mountains with great big open skies.

Gyeongju was beautiful. One night, a few girls and I decided to go take the swan boats out on the lake right before sunset. It was mostly couples and young families, so the three boats filled with loud, giggling American girls really stood out.

After the swan boats, we met up with a bunch of other ETAs and found a place that rented mini RVs and motorcycles. Obviously we couldn't pass that up, even if Cait and I were in skirts. When in Korea, ride swan boats and mini RVs, right?

Saturday night, after a long day of discussion groups and presentations about teaching and daily life in Korea, fate brought three separate groups of ETAs to the same bar. Despite no communication between the groups about where we were, about 40 of us ended up at the same place and basically took it over. The poor barstaff seemed so nervous at first--this was probably the biggest group of Americans they'd ever served--but eventually felt comfortable enough with us to show off their ridiculous b-boying skills.

On Sunday was the big Traditional Korea cultural tour where buses took us to see a handful of the most famous places in Gyeongju. In Korea, buses are Serious Business, and this is a pretty tyical set up.
First stop on the tour was Seokguram Grotto. We were dropped off at a bell tower (pictured) that marks the top of the mountain (Mt Tohamsan) and the beginning of the trail to the Grotto.
We couldn't actually take pictures inside the grotto, but this is it. The mound is the man-made grotto, inside which is a statue of Buddha. I could write all about it, but I'm lazy so if you want to read more, go to this Wikipedia article about Seokguram Grotto.
The next stop was Bulguksa Temple. We were dropped off at the beginning of the gardens and ponds surrounding the temple. It was so incredibly pretty! Both Bulguksa and Seokguram were on my list of things to do in Korea, so I was pretty pumped to see them.

After Bulguksa was a museum on the Shilla dynasty. It was mostly a lot of pots and jewelry, but it was interesting.

After the museum was Anapji Pond, a gorgeous place built for royalty to relax. It was probably my favorite stop of the day and I'm disappointed I didn't get to really enjoy the scenery, since we were a bit rushed to finish up the tour on time.

We left Anapji to go to the Cheomseongdae Observatory, the oldest observatory in East Asia. It was a quick trip, because we still had two more things to see.

One of the things to see were the tombs. In Korea, they don't dig to bury their dead, but they construct burial mounds. The dead are placed in a wooden chamber with a chest of helpful things for the After Life, then the wooden chamber is covered with boulders, then clay is placed on top of the boulders, and finally all of that is covered in soil and grass. The particular tomb we saw was Cheonmachong, another site on my list of things to do in Korea. YES.

Last, we went to Poseokjeong, which is... well, I'm still not entirely sure what it was or why it was on the tour. It was like a small moat? I guess?
So that was the weekend. I didn't really do a good job explaining it, but there's a lot of pictures so that's almost as good I guess?


Day 93 -- Midterm Week

So I haven't updated because there's not much going on. My "vacation" is decent despite being called in to the school far more often than I think I should be. Yesterday, I had to go in to discuss travel expenses for my conference. The school should have been responsible for settling this and letting me know, but since I don't have a co-teacher, a lot of these things fall on me now. I was ticked about that, especially when a 10 minute discussion got stretched into me staying at the school for a full work day. I got a call today from two of the English teachers saying that the principal wants to talk with me before the conference, which means yet again I am going into school during a week off. This time, I'm sure he'll just give me a 5 minute pep talk--which he thinks he is fantastic at--and then I'll be left totally ticked that I had to make the 20 minute journey to get there only to turn around and start the 45 minute journey home. alasldkfja

Friday is the Gyeongju conference though and I'm just going to hold onto that. He can't call me back to school from Gyeongju (or can he?)

In other news, I got a gym membership finally. It took me a long time to communicate to my host family that I wanted to do weight lifting, which is impossible at the public track. My host father finally understood, pointed to the 2.5lb weights his wife uses, and annouced "You can use these!" When I said thank you, but I need something heavier the look on his face explained instantly why so many Koreans have stick-thin limbs.

Apparently, gyms in Korea are called "health clubs". My health club membership cost me 60,000W/month, which is ridiculous to me considering how much less useful the place is compared to my gym back in America. But it's better than the public track, I guess.


In Korea, showering with same-sex is totally acceptable. And I don't mean like camp-style, I mean a big room with a bunch of shower heads, no dividers or anything. When I walk into the locker room to drop off my things before working out, I am always confronted with full-frontal ajumma nudity. They're not just on their way in/out of the shower, they just mill around the room totally naked. It's taking some getting used to but... ugh... man...


Day 87 -- iPod FOUND!, Chuseok Gifts, and Host Brother Bonding Time


Yesterday, I was told that the search for my iPod was ending because it was impossible to FORCE the theif to return it. Fair enough, and it was partially my fault anyway for leaving it behind in the English room. Not an hour after this was told to me, though, the teacher who gives me a ride to school every morning came rushing into the room. "Is it black? A black case?"

They found it! The kid took the 10,000W note that I'd tucked into the case, but it felt so good to have it back!

The vice principal thinks that the student's conscience got the better of him. I think they just got tired of trying to guess my password and didn't think to look up how easy it is to crack it. Oh well, OLLEH!


It's the Chuseok holiday now. Almost everybody has Friday off from work/school and the stores are absolutely packed with the Korean equivalent of last-minute Thanksgiving shopping. Although the ETAs were all told to originally get a gift for the Koreans close in our lives, there's some controversy over where the line is between gift-giving and bribery. I ended up not getting anything because nobody in my school had done any gift-giving, so I thought it might've been one of those older-generation traditions.

Until my principal called me up to his office and gave me a very pretty jewelry box.

So now I feel bad, I didn't get anything for anybody :[
Yeah, I did complain a lot in the last entry about the host family situation being not perfect, but I really am lucky that I have a fun family. Yesterday, for example, after host dad went to bed, the rest of us stayed up to chat and be silly together. The following video is an example of this.

After this was taken, Min Kyeong and host mom went to bed while Sae Yeob and I stayed up until 3:30am chatting. It was nice for him to finally realize that I'm not, in fact, an old teacher lady. For the first time, he realized that I'm actually not that much older than he is--he could have been one of my residents, for example, when I was an RA in the dorms! We talked about how his upcoming culture shock will be the same as my culture shock coming to Korea, we exchanged slang and swears, talked about our personal lives and our most honest hopes for our futures. It was maybe the most I've ever disclosed to a Korean so far and it makes me sad that I'll be losing my little brother in just two months.

He applied to Penn State, so I'm hopeful he's accepted there. That way, I can help him out and keep an eye on him with all my contacts back on campus.

The weekend is gonna be slow and Nonsan will be like a ghost town I'm sure, so I might take the opportunity to photograph some of the stranger things like the women's versus the men's gyms at the public track. But, uh, don't hold your breath.